Ben Roethlisberger entered 2021 with the highest cap number in all of football, a whopping $41.25M in the final year of his contract with the Steelers. After the decision was made for Ben to return, the focus became lowering that cap hit. Here’s how Pittsburgh did just that.
Pre-Existing Dead Cap
Whenever a player is extended out of an existing contract, any bonus proration that hasn’t yet hit the salary cap must transfer to the new deal. In Ben’s case, this meant the $12.5M of signing bonus proration, & the $9.75M of restructure bonus proration - a total of $22.25M. This bonus proration is 100% inflexible, meaning the full $22.25M must live in the 2021 league year of the new contract. If the current contract has multiple years remaining each with bonus proration the new contract must mimic the old in terms of this pre-existing dead cap.
Note: Any dead cap associated with a guaranteed salary or roster bonus must also transfer to the new contract, but it can be structured as needed. Often times these guarantees are converted into a new signing bonus.
The New Contract Structure
With the pre-existing dead cap already in place, the only way for the Steelers to clear cap space is to utilize a new signing bonus, with multiple years to spread the cap out across. Since 39 year old Ben isn’t inline for a true 5 year contract, the use of void years is the best way forward for Pittsburgh, despite the fact that they’ve refused to use them in the past.
The minimum salary for a player of 7 years or more experience in 2021 is $1.075M. This is the base compensation Ben will earn throughout the course of the season. In addition, Pittsburgh gave him a $12.925M signing bonus, for a total of $14M - $5M less than he was previously scheduled to earn.
The new contract is a 1 year deal, with 4 additional void/dummy years tacked on to allow the signing bonus to prorate over the maximum 5 years. This frees up as much cap space as possible in the 2021 league year. The Steelers end up saving $15.34M of cap for the 2021 season by extending Ben Roethlisberger.
What Happens After 2021?
The contract will automatically void prior to the start of the 2022 league year, with a $10.34M dead cap hit leftover for Pittsburgh to take on at that point. The $10.34M is the sum of the 4 remaining signing bonus prorations all accelerating into 2022, as if it were a Pre June 1st release. However, if Ben & the Steelers decide it’s not yet the end of the road after this season, an extension can be negotiated prior to the void that will stop the bonus proration from accelerating. This new extension would then transfer over the 2022-2025 void structure, meaning only $2.585M of pre-existing cap in 2022, a much easier place to start for the Steelers.